Expansion in the NHL has been a hot topic lately, and rightly so. After the mess that was the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season, commissioner Gary Bettman talked about how the league was flourishing economically and that expansion could be considered within a few years’ time. However, recently he sounded less enthusiastic about expanding when he said that the two expansion front-runners – Seattle and Quebec City – will not be getting teams in the near future, at least not this year:
We’re not planning on expanding. We’re not in an expansion mode or formal expansion process. We listen when people say, ‘We’d like to come visit you and tell you why we’re interested and where we’re interested.’ Seattle, which seems to have the most number of people interested . . . the fact is, there’s no building that’s on the horizon. The person who controls the rights to build a building in Seattle is intent upon having an NBA team before he builds a building.
If we reach a point in time where we decide we want to go through a formal expansion process, then we’ll evaluate all potential applicants and opportunities. I get asked about Seattle far more than I get asked about Quebec City.
But lost in the expansion hype is relocation of NHL franchises. The last time relocation took place was 2011 when the former Atlanta Thrashers franchise was almost expedited off to Winnipeg to become the second coming of the Winnipeg Jets. Relocation is a little easier for the league to carry out. The decision on relocating the Thrashers from Atlanta came in the spring and by the fall, the Jets were already playing in Winnipeg. The Thrashers franchise had ownership and economic problems, so it made sense to move that franchise. But there are current teams that would be better suited elsewhere in the U.S. or Canada, and last year’s divisional and conference realignment may have been set up to accommodate two expansion teams in the Western Conference as well as paving the way for relocation to several new – and former – NHL cities.